31 October 2014

Learning a language is like learning to play the piano

As I face only 24 more weeks of language study before my test (and presumably/hopefully before I have functional use of Arabic  إن شاء اللة ), I have sought out guidance from every corner of the language study world to aid me.
Thankfully, the language consultation service at FSI is excellent and they host seminars on proven effective study techniques regularly. It's been quite a learning experience just hearing about all the work that is being done around how adults learn, retain, and employ new languages.
Last week, the session was called "On the Tip of your Tongue: Speaking Strategies for Fluency". Being far from fluency myself, my interest was more on tips and tricks to get my tongue to sync up with my brain - to start actually using the knowledge that I have about grammar and verb conjugations and have it come out of my mouth correctly!

We talked about how learning a language is more like learning to play an instrument than learning a subject like science, mathematics, or history.
Right now, I need to focus on the basics – learning to read, identifying differences between the notes, and beginning to connect them like chords.

I have nothing complex, my best sentences are:
My name is Rose, but in Arabic my name is Werda. I work at the foreign ministry and study at the foreign service institute. (editor’s note – my Arabic keyboard isn’t working well right now, I will try to insert later.)
And anything more complicated tends to be memorized rather than impromptu.
I am developing an ear for the sounds and the rhythm. But most importantly, I am beginning to love it.

My instrument is piano and I love how the piano sounds, even if, perhaps even more, if I am not currently capable of producing that sound.
I began learning to play piano when I was 7 or 8 – I never became a professional pianist (or even close to that!) but I know enough to enjoy playing, accompany myself when I sing, and play Christmas carols for my family.
If I can get that far with Arabic in the next 24 weeks, I will be delighted.

14 October 2014

I am Rose

أنا وردة

I am Rose, but in Arabic you can call me Werda (that's the translation into Arabic transliterated into English)
Werda in the elevator (with bike helmet)

I was going to write a post about Arabic class but tonight I'm actually much more excited about the fact that just survived my very first night time urban bike ride.

Since the sun set today at 6:30 and it's only going to keep setting earlier and earlier, I wanted to make sure that I took the opportunity on a nice warm day to try out my normal route in the darkness.  Of course, I had this super snazzy and totally cool vest on.

Tried to take a pic with flash - this is what I got!

One thing that I overestimated (underestimated? Hmm well in any case I got it wrong) was the amount of light along my path. I thought that there were more street lights and didn't realize that the light on the front of my bike is a flashing light, not a solid beam.

So it was quite dark. I was visible to drivers but the bumps in the road weren't always visible to me. I only had a few teeth-jarring encounters with manholes though because i know the route very well and what to avoid even if I can't see it.

I set out at about 9, arrived home around 9:30 and now I'm snuggled up on the couch with a glass of wine and an episode of a Madam Secretary feeling like I earned them!

07 October 2014

I have important news... and other (hopefully useful) phrases I am learning in Arabic

I have set up my iPhone and newly acquired iPad to type in Arabic, but I haven't figured out how to use that gorgeous script on my actual computer yet, so I won't be able to share all of my exciting phrases with you this time. But I have a new goal of updating my blog at least once a week, so you will see some phrases soon.

I'm certain that all 5 of my loyal subscribers will be extremely excited about this new intention.

In case you are not connected with me through social media or I haven't seen you in person (and yet for some reason you are reading this blog, hm?)  I have received my very first assignment as a Foreign Service Officer!

I will be going to Beirut, Lebanon as the Cultural Affairs Officer!

This means that I am currently in full-time language training and I will be until mid-April 2015.

For those of you in the DC area: I am still around and up for brunching!

For those of you not in DC: I probably won't be able to see you for another year at least.

Full-time language training is amazing and fun and brutal and discouraging all at the same time. I had a bit of a meltdown today - a combination of too little sleep and too much going on.

But a tasty empanada from my new favorite cafe Boccato and a bit of a venting session with some of my favorite new colleagues helped bring my mood back up.

Plus, the chance to use my new iPad to review my vocabulary makes me feel justified in my birthday present for myself as an investment in learning (despite a certain looming credit card bill).

P.S. check out the engraving.

11 July 2014

Playing "Pin the Rose on the Map"

My brilliant former co-workers arranged a game at my going away party...

"Pin the Rose on the Map"

For those of you who have never clutched a donkey tail in your hands, secretly dreading you were going to walk right into a tree, the basic play is:

You take a sticker
You are blindfolded
Your friends (tormentors) spin you around in a circle three times
You grope blindly forward, attempting to stick the sticker in the "correct" place, enduring the laughter of friends and sweating over potential tripping hazards.

It's really fun, actually.

The fun part of it is how out of control you are - relying on instincts and feelings (or possibly cheap and thin fabric for cheating if you're lucky).

The actual bidding process as an ELO (Entry-Level Officer, not this ELO) is surprisingly similar.

I have a list of cities and jobs and entry dates, everywhere from Tijuana to Tokyo, from Ouagadougou to Montreal. I have my personal and professional goals. And I have the opportunity to pinpoint my interest, giving my preferences for where I'd like to go and what I'd like to do.

But, I've also been equipped with the equivalent of a good-quality fabric blindfold - I have only inklings, instinct, and a certain amount of research to inform my choices. The facts that I learn about the country may have nothing to do with my future lived experience and the opinions I hear from previous officers could either be helpful or entirely misleading.

Plus, in this process - I may be able to take a few steps forward on my own, but rather than being spun about in circles, I have a Career Development Officer (CDO) holding my shoulders and directing me.

It's really liberating, actually.

I am certain that no matter where I go, there will be frustrations and joys, challenges and celebrations. I'm worldwide available and that's really exciting.

18 June 2014

Commuting by bike

One of the best choices I made this summer was finally signing up for Capital Bikeshare.

I have started cycling to work at least three times a week and I love it.
with this view!
Of course, I'm lucky enough to have a gym at work so I can go straight in and clean up before heading to my desk. This is one of the things that I'm worried about with my move to start training. With temperatures exceeding 95 degrees and the stifling humidity, I definitely need a place to shower and cool off even after an easy ride.

I'm planning to try out my planned path from home to FSI next weekend; it should be interesting to see how easy/tough it is!

06 June 2014

A chance meeting

 I went to a federal employee mixer last night and just happened to run into Nicholas Kralev, the author of America's Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy This book was a valuable resource as I explored this career and prepared to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA). What a serendipitous meeting to have right after receiving my invitation to the A-100!

05 June 2014

A new adventure commences

I'm restarting my blog because I just got the news that I've been waiting for since November 2011... I will be appointed as a Foreign Service Officer with the US Department of State on June 30th! I am overflowing with joy, tempered by sadness for what I will be leaving behind. Stay tuned for updates, pictures, and stories!